Ministers consider applying remote working lessons to public services

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Boris Johnson has told ministers to use remote working lessons to investigate what savings could be made in the civil service and public services.

At a cabinet meeting yesterday, the Prime Minister “highlighted that departments are being asked to take part in a savings and efficiency review” and said they should “learn the lessons from the last year in how we can run services more efficiently”, according to The Times.

It is understood that this could include more virtual court hearings, online GP appointments and the closure of government buildings that are no longer needed because of a shift towards remote working.

Ben Zaranko, a research economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, told the paper that ministers “would be mad” not to think about the possible efficiencies in new ways of working.

“The government was jolted into doing things differently last year, and there is certainly potential for efficiency gains there. Digitisation is something we’ve been talking about for a long time, and this might accelerate that,” he said.

Despite claims that organisations are shedding their office estate in anticipation of continued home working, shared office space provider IWG has said that occupancy levels in its buildings are improving and inquiries from potential tenants have been rising.

It has seen strong demand for satellite offices in suburban areas of London, which would be closer to workers’ homes.

“The world of work has been permanently changed by the pandemic,” said IWG’s chief executive, Mark Dixon. “The greater flexibility demanded by enterprises and by workers has created a dynamic market backdrop for us to grow into in years to come.”

Elsewhere, a “task force”, formed of 20 business groups and trade unions including the CBI and TUC, has been set up to draw up advice on flexible working as businesses look to bring staff back to offices over the coming months.

The group will consider how the government and businesses can support the shift to hybrid working, and whether more could be done to promote “ad hoc” flexible working arrangements.

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